x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Keenan sets sights on recognition for Gulf

The Arabian Gulf's primary ambition at next month's World Cup Sevens is to change people's perception of them.

Arabian Gulf's Jonny MacDonald, left during the Dubai Sevens Shield final in November, is in the squad for the World Cup.
Arabian Gulf's Jonny MacDonald, left during the Dubai Sevens Shield final in November, is in the squad for the World Cup.

DUBAI // The Arabian Gulf are not quantifying what would represent success at next month's World Cup Sevens. Their primary ambition is to change people's perception of them. The region's elite players are all part-timers. Results have often reflected that status in the harshest terms possible in the past. The nadir came when New Zealand - one of their pool rivals next month - beat them 54-0 at the 2006 Dubai Rugby Sevens. It was an embarrassing reverse which prompted a number of players to make themselves unavailable for future international duty.

Yet hope has returned, along with a raft of exciting young talent. Charlie Keenan, the Gulf's assistant coach and fitness master, thinks big scalps should be within reach for his side in Dubai. "I just want people's attitude to change towards us," he said. "They are amateurs, having to compete against professionals. They are training like professionals and have given up a lot. "I give them a hard time when they are not able to attend training, but some of these guys are getting up and 6.30am, going to the gym before work, doing some more at lunch time, then they get me phoning up and saying they have to come to the gym to do weights.

"They have made a big commitment, and people should be aware of the fact that, although we are amateur, when we turn up to the World Cup we will be a professional outfit." An extended World Cup squad of 16 players was named yesterday, which will be trimmed to 12 a fortnight before the tournament. The players are more confident an their abilities than at any point in the past. They have never won a match in the main competition of an International Rugby Board event, and damage limitation has usually been the extent of their ambitions.

Keenan said pool stage wins against Italy and Tonga are a realistic goals for the Gulf. "We are in the right place at the moment, and we are looking to win both our games against Italy and Tonga," he said. "That is based on the feeling within our squad. That is not a case of us thinking too much: we could beat them quite easily." Keenan, a former Scotland sevens player, is so confident in his charges he feels Italy - who are ranked world No 11 in the 15-man game - could be outclassed by his side. "With Italy, we are not sure what to expect. They could send out players that aren't making it into their Six Nations squad, or players who just get together a week before," he added. "If we play a structured game against them they should not be able to compete with us."

Steve Cooper (captain), Sean Hurley (vice captain), Chris Gregory, Josh Sherrin, David Clark, Jonny MacDonald, Corey Oliver, Stuart Gibb, Francois Coetzer, Gerry Considine, Taif al Delamie, Luke Sinclair, Byron Kramer, Brett Williams, Marcus Smith, Dan Patching. pradley@thenational.ae